Ear drainage (also known as otorrhea) can be categorized as acute or chronic drainage coming from one or both ears. Acute otorrhea may represent an infectious or inflammatory process mostly related to exposure to water (swimmer’s ear). Chronic drainage, however, can have multiple other causes and often a chronic ear infection must be suspected.
These ear infections are typically associated with either a chronic perforation of the ear drum or a chronic inflammatory process resulting in bone loss of the middle ear (cholesteatoma). In any case, a careful examination will be required often including a CT scan of the ear.
Once a chronic ear infection has been confirmed, surgery is often the only management option available. This includes repair of the ear drum and removal of the diseased middle ear musocal linings (tympanoplasty). In many cases, a mastoidectomy will be necessary, which means that the bony process located behind the ear is carefully removed. Other procedures such as an enlargement of the external ear canal (canaloplasty) or reconstruction of the middle ear hearing bones (ossiculoplasty) are sometimes required.